NEWS
08/22/2016 14:45 EDT | Updated 08/23/2017 01:12 EDT

Long-anticipated lobbyist registry coming into force in Saskatchewan

REGINA — Companies and individuals trying to influence the Saskatchewan government now have to register as lobbyists.

The Lobbyists Act comes into force Tuesday.

The province is one of the last in the country to adopt such legislation. The federal government also has a lobbying law.

Premier Brad Wall said in 2011 that a lobbyist registry was long overdue and an all-party legislative committee made recommendations the following year.

The legislation passed in April 2014, but it took another year to get the registrar's office up and running and a website developed. The site allows the public to see a list of people who work to influence all politicians and civil servants on behalf of organizations or groups.

"Public decision-makers should be aware this could lead to questions from citizens, constituents and the media, but the soul of the legislation is transparency," conflict of interest commissioner Ray Barclay, who has been appointed lobbyist registrar, said Monday.

Lobbyists based inside or outside Saskatchewan have 30 days to register their activities. Barclay said he expects about 400 registrants, including a large number of oil companies.

The Lobbyists Act does not apply to universities, First Nations, municipalities and volunteer and non-profit organizations.

Barclay says lobbyists will have to disclose any time they ask for something — be it in an official meeting, a text message or anywhere else.

"You can be on the golf course and you see minister X and I'm kind of anxious to build a liquor store. So we have a round of golf or even one hole, but you still have to declare that information because you're lobbying," he said.

The onus is on the person doing the lobbying to register the information. Barclay said there's no responsibility for elected officials to ensure the registration is accurate.

Penalties for breaking the law include a fine of not more than $25,000 for a first offence, $100,000 for a second or subsequent offence and a lobbying prohibition of up to two years.

Barclay is optimistic about the reporting process.

"My feeling generally — people are pretty honest," said the former Court of Queen's Bench judge.

"I've been conflict of interest commissioner for over six years and I have not had one incident where there's been allegations of wrongdoing or unethical behaviour and I'm very proud of the politicians on both sides of the house."

Justice Minister Gord Wyant said people often approach him.

"I think it's important to remember that where someone talks to a cabinet minister with respect to government policy or the application of government policy, that's not necessarily lobbying," Wyant said Monday.

"But as a cabinet minister and as an MLA, people talk to you all the time about things that they would like to see and things that they would like to see happen. So when they're being paid for that or when there's a personal benefit that's accruing to them ... that's when it becomes lobbying."